In Becoming Rome: How Our Culture Celebrates and Promotes Violence, I shared several articles and studies that showed the scientifically proven causal link between watching violent acts in media and violent behavior. I also shared some articles that argued the opposite-- that in fact, media violence does not cause real world violence. If you haven't read it, I invite you to read it here.
What to believe? That is up to you.
However, I believe in educating hearts- or as Sarah Mackenzie puts it, "teaching children to love what they ought, and to hate what they ought." Charlotte Mason puts it differently, that we should teach children "less good conduct than good character."
In that light, I believe that as parents, we should be very deliberate in what we watch, what our children to watch, and how we vote with our dollars as we use media- holding influencers accountable for what they create or promote.
What you and I can do
The News and "Media Contagion":
The studies may be mixed when it comes to the effect entertainment media violence has on real world actions, but it is very clear when it comes to how real world mass shootings and other violence are reported. According to a study done last year by the American Psychological Association, "The prevalence of these crimes [mass shootings] has risen in relation to the mass media coverage of them and the proliferation of social media sites that tend to glorify the shooters and downplay the victims."
Or in other words, how the news covers these horrible atrocities can actually lead to MORE atrocities. The agencies may get high ratings for providing sensational details...but they risk future lives when they do this.
What can we do about it?
This same cycle happened many years ago with suicide, and when news agencies agreed collectively to change their reporting methods, suicides dropped. We can demand that the same happen with mass shootings. We can ask sweet Jimmy Kimmel to stop talking about this. We can ask our news agencies to stop giving power to these mentally disturbed people by refusing to print every sensational detail that ultimately glorifies their actions to other mentally disturbed people. Please, let your voice be heard on this one. We can also stop tweeting, sharing and commenting on articles that report the news in this dangerous way.
“If the mass media and social media enthusiasts make a pact to no longer share, reproduce or retweet the names, faces, detailed histories or long-winded statements of killers, we could see a dramatic reduction in mass shootings in one to two years, Even conservatively, if the calculations of contagion modelers are correct, we should see at least a one-third reduction in shootings if the contagion is removed.”
Deliberate parents need to be educated about violence. We can read studies and learn about the available data. We can be our own social scientists and observe our family and see how what we view or listen to affects our home. We can consciously decide what values we want to teach our children and support media that teaches THOSE things.
Parents can teach the REAL consequences of violence. We can ask our children questions about what they watch, how characters and their families are affected by violent actions and guide them through the process of empathy. For example: "In real life, that person would be paralyzed." "How will that _____ action affect this person and his family?" "I wonder about the person whose property was damaged in that fight." We can decide what, if anything, we need to cut from our lives. We can also deliberately decide what to keep.
It's not going to be easy or convenient. For example, my husband loves the Jason Bourne movies. Our entire family has enjoyed the Marvel movies. We have dressed up as those characters for Halloween. But to be honest, these movies don't reflect our personal values. Are they fun? Yes. Do some things in them make me uncomfortable? Yes. (Men and women fighting each other among other things, especially bothers me.) I try to only watch them using filters, but there is really only so much a filter can do on movies where violence and warfare is a theme. My family and I need to decide together where the "line in the [media] sand" is for us.
Hollywood and Other Entertainment Media:
Right now, I'm calling out myself and Hollywood. I'm calling on us to stop being hypocrites. They make millions of dollars on movies which promote the very violence they condemn. I often pay them for it. Look at this list of celebrities calling for increased gun control and tell me if you see anything ironic:
I'm not calling for governmental censorship here. I'm not calling for gun control. (Nope, not going to open THAT can of worms!) I'm asking for us to have self-censorship. Just because we CAN make something--should we? Just because we CAN watch something--should we?
I absolutely believe in what the beautiful, talented and classy Greer Garson said about the arts:
Producers should have more courage. People will respond to stories with love and courage and happy endings instead of shockers. I think the mirror should be tilted slightly upward when it's reflecting life - toward the cheerful, the tender, the compassionate, the brave, the funny, the encouraging - and not tilted down to the troubled vistas of conflict.
Yes, real life is messy, and sometimes dangerous and sometimes sad. I'm not saying we ignore that. Real life problems are important. We NEED to know about them, so we can fix them, so we can help the people caught in them. But here, I am referring to fictional violence or anything that glamorizes hurting others.
Let us vote with our dollars. Go to the movie theater and pay full price for uplifting movies. Clean out your music, book and movie collections. Refuse to pay for and watch movies that don't align with your personal belief system. We need to have more integrity when it comes to our entertainment and our values. Our kids are always watching us. Let's be consistent in what we say and what we do. Let's consistently give our children positive role models that solve problems in a realistic, empathetic, mature way.
If you are a skeptic and don't believe that violence in media will really change anything, I'd urge you to give it up for six months. See what it does for you, personally. You might be surprised. Laura Hartnell did just that, and was astounded at what she found. She wrote this about her experience:
"As soon as I stopped watching violence against women in my entertainment, I started feeling safer as a woman in the world."
Then she quotes Graham Davey, Emeritus Professor of psychology at the University of Sussex.
"One of the most insidious effects of such negative material is that it affects the viewer's mood, often without them being aware of [it]. Our near-constant engagement with violent content in our entertainment, he adds, can "heighten the individual's own personal worries and concerns, making people worry more about events in their own personal lives." (Emphasis mine.)
Laura decided to more deliberately choose what shows she watched, and found "in this way, actively choosing which stories I allow into my head has made me feel more powerful." (Emphasis mine.)
And that is where the paradox lies. The prevailing belief is that the violent have power. But instead, let's own our power by getting rid of the violence in our homes. We have the power to change our own feelings of empowerment, our moods, how our children react during times of stress, and can even have an impact on mass shootings. When we do this, we change our culture. We change hearts. We refuse to be Rome.
And then perhaps, after all, the meek will inherit the earth.
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